When Allison Fagerness' flight to Rome is canceled, she's forced to call off her vacation and return home. Her online travel agent, Expedia, promises a refund, but her airline, Alitalia, won't pay. What should she do?
Q: I'm trying to get a refund for a canceled flight on Alitalia, but no one seems to be able to help me. I recently booked a ticket from Minneapolis to Rome via New York on Expedia. My connecting flight was canceled because of weather conditions. Since my ticket was booked on Delta Air Lines, which has a code-sharing agreement with Alitalia, I asked a Delta representative how I could get on the next flight.
Delta referred me to Alitalia. But Alitalia couldn't rebook me on a flight until several days later, which would have left me with only two days of vacation. Since I couldn't afford the cost of staying in New York for a week, I was forced to return to Minneapolis.
When I got home, I called Expedia immediately to see if I could get a refund for the unused portion of my ticket. Expedia contacted Alitalia for me and was able to get an authorization to refund $799, which covered the entire cost of my ticket.
Since then, I have called Alitalia several times to find out about the status of my refund. The customer service agents are extremely rude. They have put me on hold for a half-hour or more at a time, yelled at me and spoken to me as if I were a complete moron. The last time I tried to call, I was told that there was no record of a refund request, and when I told the agent that Expedia had filed a request, she started yelling at me until I hung up.
I feel like I'm out of options. Is there anything you can do? -- Allison Fagerness, St. Louis Park, Minn.
A: Alitalia owes you a prompt refund on the unused portion of your ticket. According to Article 10 of the airline's general conditions of carriage, not only must it refund your money within a week, but it should have also offered food and drink "in conformity to the length of the delay" and two telephone calls or "messages via telex, fax or e-mail."
The airline fell short -- way short -- of coming close to giving you any of those things. But as I see it, there are two other parties who should have stepped in to help, but didn't.
The first is Delta. If your tickets were on Delta, then the airline bears some responsibility for getting you to your destination, and if it can't, then making sure you're given a speedy refund. The fact that it outsourced its flight to Alitalia doesn't matter. You paid Delta, and Delta should take care of you.
The second entity that should have lent a hand is Expedia. The company's well-marketed "Expedia Promise" assures you that you can "go with confidence" and, "Whether you have questions about your itinerary, have a change in travel plans, or need help resolving a problem with the trip you booked, we're here to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our job is to satisfy you!"
That clearly didn't happen.
It probably won't surprise you if I told you that Alitalia is the most complained-about international airline, from my perspective. I regularly hear from passengers with lost luggage for which they're never compensated, or with a complicated but completely avoidable denied-boarding problem, or, more frequently, about customer service rendered with a snarl. As far as I can tell, the airline doesn't care.
My first call from the airport, after learning your flight had been canceled, would have been to Expedia. With all the promises it makes, I would think that finding an alternate flight to Rome and salvaging your vacation wouldn't have been any trouble.
You shouldn't have let Delta off the hook, either. Instead of dealing with a ticket agent, you should have called the airline, explained your problem, and asked for help. If it had tried to pass you off to Alitalia again, I would have politely requested a supervisor. Once you were home, you should have also leaned more heavily on Expedia for a refund.
I contacted Expedia on your behalf, and it helped get your $799 back.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2008 Christopher Elliott Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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